Unsighted is a difficult game to neatly compartmentalise. Studio Pixel Punk’s cyberpunk post-apocalyptic tale of human brutality and the fragility of existence is lost amongst an ever-expanding list of gameplay systems.
At times, Unsighted wants to be a frenetic hack ‘n slash blending various weapon and movement choices with parries and critical hits. Other times, it’s a Metroidvania filled with hidden, inaccessible pathways, until a specific power-up is found in a puzzle-filled, Zelda-like dungeon. Then there are its terminals that allow players to rest, but will revive enemies for that souls-like flavour. Adding to this mayhem is a complex crafting system, consisting of both free-style crafting as well as blueprints; a temporary buff system; and a permanent upgrade chip mechanic—and Unsighted becomes a veritable who’s who of the gameplay fashions from the last five years.
But in trying to do everything competently, Unsighted loses sight of what makes its beautiful pixel art world worth diving into in the first place.
As an automaton called Alma, you’re tasked with saving the automaton community, who were violently cast out by their human creators. To do this, Alma needs to collect five gems from across the map to form a weapon that will help unlock the meteoric power hidden away by humanity. The story itself has been told many times in pop culture—humanity builds robots, robots ask if they dream of electric sheep, and humanity subsequently hit the genocide button in panic. What makes this story stand out, other than the diverse cast of characters, is in the particular flavour of genocide the game employs.
Rather than simply destroying the automatons, humanity locks away their power to achieve sentience, leading them to slowly become “unsighted”—devoid of their personalities, thus regressing to their baser need to kill and survive. Unsighted’s snappy and diverse combat mostly revolves around smashing the “Unsighted” to destruction, which adds a curious twist to conflict that should have been explored further.
When out in the wild, wrecking these unfortunate souls is necessary for survival and for crafting better weapons and resources. But seeing fellow automatons who haven’t succumbed to the same fate as the Unsighted, as they teach you how to survive in the world, sell you items or share their personal struggles, does put into perspective their struggles: the Unsighted were once amiable beings with families and friends. Unfortunately, the crafting materials you get by destroying the Unsighted mitigates any guilt or introspection, reducing them to mere mines for resources. After all, that spring could be useful eventually.
Within the game lies its most compelling feature: the countdown mechanic. Each character you meet, from the Navi-inspired fairy-bot Iris to wholesome chip merchant Samuel, has a countdown clock that signifies the hours left in their life-cycle. Think 2011’s In Time starring Justin Timberlake or the music video to Savin’ Me by Nickelback (a truly cursed combination). It’s this countdown that gives Unsighted an unnerving sense of dread, and an interesting incentive to plough through the game as quickly as possible, to save as many people as you can. However, this time limit is at odds with many activities the game wants you to partake in, such as exploring secrets, finding unique weapons and fishing for crafting materials. This subsequently makes those systems feel shoehorned in, rather than an integral part of what makes Unsighted’s cogs turn.
Had it been stripped away of some of its convoluted system, and instead focused on one or two features and story beats to go alongside its high level of polish and presentation, Unsighted would be a GOTY contender. But in trying desperately to be everything, Unsighted loses sight of the aspects that make it unique in an ever-expanding marketplace of retro-inspired Mentroidvanias. As a result, it’s an enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable experience.